Daily Archives: February 22, 2015

This is the way…the descent into the rabbit hole…cycles

I went to bed last night at 7:30, the instant my kid was out. I just didn’t have the will left to fight it. When the mind goes to that dark place…And I’m not talking the one that says everything sucks, blah blah blah…I am talking the one where it determines you are a waste of space, beyond hope, and should just step out in front of a speeding train because it’s all utterly hopeless.
Yeah, once you’re that far down the rabbit hole, staying awake so the thoughts can continue beating you into submission is dangerous. Because being tough, being strong, having the will to live…It’s not enough to block out the darkness. If anything should be teaching the world just how potentially fatal depression is, it would be the death of Robin Williams. The man was a comedic genius, spent his whole life making others laugh, seeming so jovial…And in the end, even though he had everything to live for, it didn’t stop the insidiousness of mental illness.
It’s said no one ever died of mental illness, just usually suicide.
When otherwise healthy well adjusted people become victim to a depression that convinces them to take their own life, I’d say that is death by mental illness.

I woke up repeatedly through the night. My skin and scalp had the bug crawling thing going on and I was digging at my flesh like scouring a crusted pan. It’s not surprising my anxiety reaches such fever pitch. My brother was out at the hospital last week with a head to toe rash and the doctors said it was anxiety induced. So that makes six people in my family, on both sides, that have/have had their battles with mental health. Yet the naysayers dispute the genetic link. It’s almost laughable that anyone could be so ignorant.
At one point, I tried to convince myself to get up and shower, maybe the warm water would wash away the bug crawling sensation. The harder I tried to force myself to do it, the further into the abyss I sank.
Sometimes it’s like that. Which was why my old counselor was a bloody sage. He was the one who told me sometimes you just have to admit you feel how you feel and go with it because fighting it will make you feel defeated and add to it.
So I just let myself feel utterly enveloped in blackness.

This morning…I’m edgy but my mood is uppish. Then again, I just took my proxac two hours ago so it hasn’t had time to outlive its half life. Maybe none of them work because my metabolism eats the medication quicker than it can remain to do any good.
I have no idea.
For the moment, I am okay. Not bouncing off walls, not clawing at my skin. Just…reticent to surviving one more day in the coal mines with mental illness.
At times, I don’t think they make a shovel big or powerful enough to dig me out of my depressive mines.

2:42 p.m.

The depression and irritibility are calling to me.
I am fighting with all I’ve got and yet…I feel it in my bones. It’s coming. Maybe not this minute but it will come.
That darkness is a lot like having a plastic bag covering your face while blindfolded. You know your hopes of survival are slim so you surrender.
I’m a rebel, I don’t wanna surrender. I want to get back on my feet, dust myself off, and give it one hell of a fight.
If only mental illness were a battle of wills rather than a battle with your own sick mind.

4:50 pm

To get a step ahead of the evening crash, I have purposely gotten my kid and myself showered and supper on early. I am loathe to “Matlock” (ya know, older people eat and go to bed so early) but if the last few nights have taught me anything…It’s that waiting at this juncture is just going to result in the inevitable blackness and self loathing.
This way…I can at least say I did a couple of successful ventures today. Dishes are done, laundry is caught up, cat boxes are clean (for some reason my kid considers it a treat to be allowed to scoop them), floors are swept and vacuumed…I have accomplished something.
Be nice if i could accomplish not having my mental state crash into the abyss.
True love and other fairytales, unicorns are real, and there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Not pessimism.
Just hard learned lessons.

5:44 p.m.

And so it begins. I am irritable, nervous, and the darkness is tugging at my mind, telling me the only safe space is in the crypt of my bedroom.
I’d be less irked if this hadn’t been going on for three years. Every day after 4 pm. If 40 mg got me through the day, then another 10, 20, 40 during evening just might be what does the trick.
But the doctors won’t increase the antidepressant because it could make me manic. Their conventional treatment and covering their own backsides may well be what is contributing to the problem.
I’d risk mania to avoid this crap every night.


Cooking Classes Could Help People Cope With Mental Health Problem!

IMG_5267   IMG_5265

http://miami.cbslocal.com/2015/02/20/cooking-classes-could-help-people-with-mental-health-problems/

Great news! I think I already knew that. And I am definitely starting my Cooking Blog!! When I’m cooking, I feel really good, no worries, no depression, just the task at hand and then delicious food at the end of the process.


Validating My Need For Validation

My father’s death on Yom Kippur (November 2, 2024), and the years leading up to it, launched me into a journey of self-awareness.  It’s the journey I’ve been seeking all of my life.  It’s the journey of validation of the soul, of becoming aware of my physical and personal boundaries.

Until these times, everything I’ve done has been for the purpose of seeking validation from others.  Which others?  Others, just others.  Friends, employers, patients, staff, partners, spouses, my child…

My father gave me lots of validation.  He was careful to pay attention to what I was doing and give me praise, really specifically as in, “The way you make use of line and space in this drawing is stupendous,” or, “This is an absolutely scrumptious omelette!  You’ve really outdone yourself, Laurie!”

His critiques could hurt, though.  He was always honest, but never brutal; and yet, since I hung on his every word, a negative critique either on my work or on something I had done in life stung, and I would go and cry privately.  I knew that he was right….except when he was defending my mother’s rages.

“She isn’t feeling well, you know.”

“She has her period.  She’s always a bit testy when she has her period.  You just have to cut her a wide berth.”

When he did that, I felt betrayed, abandoned, and so, so alone.

It confused me terribly when he started scolding me for standing up to her.  For one thing, she began to scream and call me names right in front of him.  When I told her that what she was doing was abusive, they both screamed back at me that it was their right to abuse me because they were my parents.

Stunned, I said, “Are you telling me that because you are my parents, that gives you the right to do or say anything you want to me?”

“That’s right!” they both shouted, in unison.

Over the next few months it became clear to me that he was suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, in which the captive, in an effort to save himself, comes to idolize the captor.  Dad’s illness caused him to become increasingly dependent on Mom for his physical care; his self-preservation became dependent on siding with her, flattering her, doing what she wanted when she wanted it…and being her whipping-boy.

He had always been able to deflect her tantrums by simply leaving and going to his studio to work, coming back late at night, giving her a chance to get over her “mad” and simmer down into petulance.

On rare occasions, if she goaded him sufficiently, he would blow up and yell at her, reducing her to tears.  She would run to their room, throw herself on the bed and sob.  He would go to his studio and work, and the next day he would bring a peace offering, a bouquet of wildflowers, dinner out, chocolates.  And then back to status quo.

I confused validation with appeasement.  I overturned every rock looking for something that would bring lasting acceptance from my mother.  Praise would have been wonderful, but simple acceptance would have been enough.  Gifts, vacations, floral arrangements, expensive meals out, elaborate meals made at home…all of these garnered momentary praise, but felt to me exactly the same as the Mother’s Day cards I made for her, the valentines, all the childish surprises I made for her, in hopes that this time she would really love me…

Look at all the things I’ve done.  I won’t list them, but just know that I have accomplished many things in my life that should have been just for me, or because they were fulfilling dreams…but at the bottom of it all, I was seeking validation from my mother.  “My daughter, the doctor….”

I wasn’t just seeking approval.  Approval is very important, but it’s temporary and tied to the deed that provoked it.

Validation is a much deeper thing.  Validation is approval on the level of the soul.  The Inner Approval.

According to Jewish law, parents are partners with God in Creation.  God utilizes the special blend of the parents’ souls and bodies (the body being a temporary dwelling for the soul) to create a new person.  It is for this reason that we are commanded to “Honor your father and your mother.”

But what happens if the parents are legitimately abusive?  Are we commanded to honor them?  Can honor be legislated?  If so, what form would that honor take?

When I first became Jewishly religious, I went into a panic about this.  It didn’t help that my mother loudly and offensively mocked my new clothes, the fact that I had chosen to cover my hair, the fact that I prayed three times a day and kept Shabbat according to Jewish Law.

On one of my trips to Israel, prior to moving there permanently, I ran to the most famous Orthodox Jewish bookstore in Jerusalem and asked if there was a book on honoring parents.  There was: “Sefer Kibud Avot.”  The Book of Honoring Parents.  It was in Hebrew.  I had just barely learned to laboriously read a little Scriptural Hebrew.  Somehow, the words of this book flew off the pages into my mind.  I swear it was a moment of Divine Inspiration.

The book said that if parents were abusive, the child still had to honor them.

But in that case, asked the book, what does “honoring them” mean?

It gave a number of examples of exceptional people whose parents abused them terribly, yet they continued to take the abuse.

For instance, one of the Rabbis who lived during the time of Jesus was sitting teaching a group of his students, when his mother came into the room and spat in his face.  He did not remark upon the incident, but continued teaching, and she went away.

There are many lessons in this story.  I have thought about this a lot.

But getting back to what Sefer Kibud Avot had to say about this incident:  Rabbi Ploni (“Ploni” is a Talmudic term for “Whoever”) was a saint.  We are mostly not saints.  If a saint could be expected to behave like that, how are we non-saints suppose to act?

The book then defined what the term “Kibud Avot (honoring your parents)” means in the case of abusive parents:

1) Make sure they have a roof over their heads

2) Clothes to cover their nakedness and for warmth

3)  Food sufficient for their nutritional needs.

In other words, according to Jewish Law we are only responsible for their basic physical needs.

The Bible tells us in no uncertain terms that we are not to purposely harm ourselves.  We are not to do anything that puts us in harm’s way.  According to Sefer Kibud Avot, this includes abusive parents.  We are not to expose ourselves to abuse from any source, and that includes from parents.  We are to distance ourselves from evil.  Willingly exposing ourselves to evil is like doing evil ourselves.

Yikes.  Validation!

That revelation came down to me in 2005.  There is actual discussion of the issue in Jewish books of law!  I was not the only one who had to deal with this problem of how to honorably take care of one’s abusive parents, without feeding the continual abuse!  Validation that I am not “imagining things,” as my mother likes to say.  (The term for this type of invalidation of another’s lived experience is gaslighting.  You can find much more on the topic of gaslighting on the blog The Invisible Scar.)

I have wrestled with this since my father became ill and I left Israel in 2011 to be with him in his final years, months, weeks, days, hours, minutes, seconds, breaths.  I found ways of dealing with my mother’s insanity on my own terms, yet it tore me apart to watch her mocking and belittling and publicly shaming him.

I’ve had a lot of help during these years.

Giving credit where credit is due, I have a wonderful advisor in the form of my therapist, with whom I have worked on and off since 2000.  She has saved my life many times.

I have also learned an enormous amount and garnered tremendous validation from the site The Invisible Scar.  The site is about surviving emotional abuse, with a focus on Adult Survivors of Narcissists (ACoN).  If anyone here feels that they have suffered at the hands of a narcissistic parent or caregiver, I highly recommend that they visit The Invisible Scar.

The Invisible Scar is run by a Christian organization, although it maintains religious neutrality.  However, I highly recommend the Christian ministry site that is its source.  Here you will find an extensive questionnaire that will result in your knowing whether or not you have been pillaged by a narcissist in your life.  I found myself going down their list going, uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh, nope, uh-huh….my life has been parasitized by my narcissistic mother, enabled by my passive father.   Jeez.

If you are a Christian, or are interested in the Christian perspective on what to do if you discover that you are being abused by a parent or significant other, I cannot imagine a better place to find diagnostic tools, validation, and advice, backed up by Scripture that applies universally to any ethical system or religion.  I am clearly not a Christian, but I know wisdom when I encounter it, and this is down-to-earth, straight-to-the-core, cut-to-the-chase wisdom.

Here’s a gift from The Invisible Scar that showed up in my inbox a couple of days ago:  two professors from the University of Georgia have asked The Invisible Scar to help recruit volunteers to take a survey on the parental communication skills of Adult Children of a Narcissist.  If you’re like me, you might be anxious (in my case, obsessed) about not repeating history–in other words, not passing on the terrible heritage of the emotional abuse that you suffered at the whims of the Narcissist in your life.  If you’d like to participate in the survey, go here. It only takes a few minutes.

You might find it validating!


The Perfect Day

I thought I’d write a little fantasy post on “the perfect day”.

First of all, I’d have to get ready for the perfect day. It would start at midnight, so I’d have to do some preparation. The day before I’d have my hair done and take the perfect shower. And I’d find the most comfortable clothes I could find (that looked decent) because this would be an active day.

The perfect day would be shared by some other people. I’d drag 15 of my best friends and their significant others with us. Also, my three kids and a guest for each of them. My single girlfriends could bring a friend OR I’d find them a nice, friendly, good looking guy to come along.

Everyone would meet at my house at midnight. We’d have some stretch limos to take us to the airport. I’d remind everyone to bring a small bag with a change of clothes just in case they needed it. On the way to the airport, even though it’s midnight, we’d have some champagne, sandwiches, beer, cosmos, and frosted brownies. brownies 2cosmoOMG, those brownies look good.

So we’re off on the plane and heading to Disneyland.disney 2This will be an experience for everyone to remember.

Oops. I have a good friend who lives by Disneyland. I don’t want to forget her! She and her husband meet us there.

Now, first, let me explain that this will be a FUN day for everyone. No one HAS to do anything. No one has to hang around me or feel obligated to keep up. People can do what they want and just sort of wave hi on occasion. As long as they make it back on time, they are good. I just want everyone to have a great day. We’re going to hand out a little schedule so people know what is available when.

Now, it’s not far to Disneyland, and we are going to wind up there about three in the morning. We’re going to start off with just some free ride time. We’re not going to be all alone in the park (too weird), but there’ll only be a few other groups there. It’ll be open enough for people to ride any rides over and over again. If you want to spend two hours on the teacups, you’re good. Whatever works for you. I have a few favorites and spend lots of time on Indiana Jones, Space Mountain, Dumbo, the carousel, and the roller coasters.

When the sun rises, it is beautiful and sunny with a slight breeze.

At about six, we’re going to have the best buffet breakfast ever. Everything really hot and fresh. (I’ve had some blah food at Disney so this will be better!). Hopefully, everyone will come and grab something. I pick the French Toast. Then it’s off for some more rides.

If anyone gets tired (that would be me), they can rest anywhere. We’ll have a kiosk in the center of things with free drinks, water, snacks, and info in case anyone gets lost. I get a green balloon, drag it around a while and give it to a toddler I meet.

At nine, we’re offering some variety. You can head to the hotel spa for a massage, facial, or body treatment. You can head to our suite of rooms and take a shower or nap. You can sit by the pool. You can also keep running around the Park and riding if you like. I choose the spa. I get the aromatherapy massage and the hydrating body wrap.massageNoon is lunch time. We’re setting up a couple of different options. People can either come and have a nice high tea or they can go  for a hamburger hot dog type grill.teaMeanwhile, the spa is still open for treatments and of course, you can still go on rides. All of this is explained on the little schedule everyone got at the beginning of the day. I definitely go for the high tea. There aren’t any men there…I guess they went for the burgers.

Now I’m exhausted and my noon meds are kicking in. I go to find a nice big clean white bed and everyone else has to entertain themselves. Which, let’s face it, should be easy to do at Disneyland. I grab a hot shower and change clothes…am feeling sort of grimy at this point.

The good news is we still have some surprises in store. At two, California Adventure opens, (we’re giving the Magic Kingdom folks a rest!) and we have SHOPPING! All of my girlfriends get a nice little allowance to spend at the stores in Downtown Disney. I manage to crawl out of bed and do some shopping. (I think there is a Sephora there…so it’s make-up time.)

At six, we have a steak and lobster dinner at the hotel. We’ll have lots of drinks and of course, chicken for anyone who needs it. Hopefully, everyone will make this part.

I’m hoping by now that everyone is getting a bit tired as I am exhausted. It’s back to the Magic Kingdom for a couple of more rides and some fireworks. Then it’s back to the limos to get back to the airport.

Almost everyone falls asleep on the plane and they all have smiles on their faces. I’m a nervous flier, but I’m so tired I don’t care.

It WAS the perfect day. Everyone had fun and I didn’t get bipolar a bit. I got to rest and I got to ride my favorite rides. Most importantly, I got to see all of my friends and family have fun. That is the most perfect thing of all.

 

 

Sensation in the Brain

I know there is no physical sensation in the brain. It cannot feel pain. It cannot feel touch. Even in a car accident when the brain sloshes from side to side and bashes against one side of the skull and then the other, the brain sustains injuries, but feels nothing.

That notwithstanding, twice in my life I have felt physical sensations in my brain – or at least what felt like them.

The first time was at the dentist. I am terribly phobic about dentists, so even for routine procedures I need anti-anxiety medication. This was not a routine procedure.

The dentist was very understanding. He put me in the children’s treatment room, which had brightly colored designs of cactus, coyotes, cowboys, all painted on the walls in comforting colors and playful attitudes.

He also brought in a traveling anesthesiologist so that I could be unconscious during the procedure instead of terrified. My husband was there with me, of course, both to drive me and to give me moral support. (It also turned out that he had to give permission for one of my teeth to be removed in the middle of the procedure while I was unconscious.)

While the anesthesiologist was putting me under, my husband and the dentist were casually chatting. My husband made a remark and the dentist said, “Oh, she can’t hear us now. She’s already pretty far under and won’t remember a thing.”

“I bet she will,” my husband replied. The bet involved giving me a word to try to remember when I awoke. They selected the word green.

“You mean like the color of my pants?” I said. They were actually more like olive drab.

“Yes,” the dentist replied. “Green – the color.”

Just for the hell of it, as I was sinking into unconsciousness, I silently repeated to myself the word green in a slow and steady manner: green green green – until the drugs took me under.

An unknown time later I awoke. The dentist asked me, “Is there something you were supposed to remember?” I shook my head groggily.

As soon as I did, I felt an odd sensation in the back of my brain. It was like a little bubble rising up through liquid. When the bubble reached the surface of whatever the liquid was, it burst and released the word green. “Green?” I said uncertainly.

“See?” said my husband. “I told you she would remember.”

The other sensation in my brain came about six weeks after beginning a new psychotropic medication. I had gone through a long, miserable time of trying drug after drug after drug – tapering off on one and ramping up on the next – all with no effect, except unpleasant ones.

Dr. R. was ready to recommend electroshock for me. And after such a long time – I think it may have been two years – of trying and failing with different medications, I was ready to take the plunge. I admitted as much in one of my sessions.

“There’s one more thing I’d like to try before we do that,” said Dr R. “Here is a prescription for lamictal”.

“Okay,” I said. “How does it work?”

“We don’t really know,” he replied. This was our standard conversation whenever he prescribed a new drug. I was used to it, but I always asked anyway.

So I tried it. And felt the usual nothing for almost six weeks. Then one day I was in my husband’s study and we were talking, when I felt it.

It was the physical sensation in the back of my brain of a light switch being flipped. I thought I heard an internal click. When that switch flipped, suddenly something in my brain changed. It remembered how to think and to feel and to not be miserable.

“Oh!” I said. “I remember this. This is the way my brain is supposed to work.” Since then it has kept working – not continuously in the proper manner – but often enough that I consider the drug a success.

I know that in both of those cases nothing happened in my brain that caused a physical sensation. Both times, my brain gave me a metaphor for what was happening. In the dentist’s office the metaphor was a bubble rising to the surface to explain coming out from under sedation – and a little bit of self-hypnosis.

In the case of the drug, the metaphor was the cliche of flipping on a light switch. This time something had changed in my brain, something biochemical. I should not have been able to feel it, but according to my brain, I did.

It seems I have a clever brain. It gave me ways to understand what was happening in terms I could relate to. The fact that I know the brain can have no physical sensations did not matter to my brain.

Human brains are amazing – and sometimes even in a good way.


Filed under: Mental Health Tagged: anxiety, dentists, drug side effects, fear of dentists dental phobia, husband, mental health, mental illness, metaphors, my experiences, psychotropic drugs, the human brain physical sensations in the brain

Basic Care

Keep CleanYesterday a crack opened in the bipolar depression that’s been at me for weeks.  Enough to let me remember to return to basics.  Because I’ve looked in the mirror every morning and said to that shocked face, “We’re not going to the hospital this year.  We’re not.”

First a call to the group I worked for this past summer—Integrated Health Services.  Their whole mission is to keep mental health clients out of the hospitals and emergency rooms.  I know I need more support now—I’ve been hearing from my providers all year that I don’t have enough in the best of times.  I’m not sure what IHS can do, but I made an appointment for Monday with Rosario, my care coordinator, and with Allison, my peer, to sit and figure that out.  They are both kind, heart-centered women.  I feel safe going to them.  The fact that I was just able to make the appointment helped.  Doing something, anything, sometimes helps.

Daily PlanToday I will start using my Daily Plan sheet, the one I created after my partial hospitalization last spring.  It will help me focus on small goals and remember to do every day tasks that get waterlogged by the swampy emotions.

I looked at how much money I’ve spent this month and cut back to the essentials.  Today I’ll figure a budget to get me through to May (February is just the beginning.  March and April can sometimes be even worse).  I’ll try to make it something I can live with, not something that will punish me for being sick.

HenryI cleaned out my refrigerator of all the liquefying vegetables and bought a few simple groceries.  I swam at the Y.  I sat with my fading bedspread for a while and sewed a blanket stitch around the frayed edges with gentle music playing and the cats behind my head on the chair.  Henry’s belly makes a gurgling, crackling sound when he’s digesting, and I pressed my ear against his fur to listen while he slept.

My apartment is a sickroom now.  No sudden moves.  No grand expectations.  Everything deliberate and gentle.  I must tend to my sleep, get to the Y every day, maintain my journal, plan quiet visits with friends, try to eat fresh food.  I will try to keep the structure sound while the storm carries on inside.  I will treat myself as someone worthy of care and respect, as someone that I love.


grief in brief

Lately when I get email notifications regarding bipolar, I go ugh at the subject line and go no further. I take that as a very good sign; a sign that the obsessive research is over. I’ll read stuff again, I’ll have questions again, but right now I got nuthin. Anyway, my mind is occupied with other things. I shall be very pleased when February vanishes.

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Notes – because entire thoughts are too much to tackle today:
Back to only posting impersonal things on fb, the post the other day upset me. Well. Anyway.
One of my five friends in the area is emigrating in a few months time.
I confronted one of the causes of conflict this morning and although she reacted quietly, it’s left a very sour taste indeed.
My dog looked for Hyaenadog with great concentration and for ages yesterday evening. It felt as thought my heart shattered like a windscreen with a gravestone through it.
I hate February.
I hate February.
I hate February.
There are only six days left of February, but they’re the most triggery ones.
I am tired of having to fake being ok irl because people just don’t know what to say. I totally understand their point of view, but nobody has to provide a solution, just friendship.

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A Congregation of One

A Congregation of One 22 Feb 2015

A member of the parish

“You’re nearer to God in a garden…”

It’s not for nothing that this blog is subtitled “Musings of a British Eccentric”. How many people say: “Hiya, babes!” when they spot a blackbird whilst walking through their local park?

Just for the record, the blackbird was unimpressed.

The above photo was taken this morning, in my garden. For the photographers amongst you, I used a digital “bridge” camera, and fingerless gloves.

I have today off. This is not a given with my current day/night job, so I like to enjoy my Sundays when and whilst I can. I had thought about attending the local Quaker Meeting, as I find associating with the Friends both restful, and inspiring.

Today, however, this is my church:

Less "here is the steeple" than "I'm a little teapot"

Less “here is the steeple” than “I’m a little teapot”

In place of incense, there was the – relatively – fresh air. As for the choir, they sang beautifully. For example, there was:

2015-02-22 09.57.10

If only this collared dove realised I’m vegetarian.

 The nature of my life, and health, means that I spend a lot of time juggling a job with varying, unsocial hours, and the interests and activities that I enjoy, and usually keep me well.

Emphasis on “usually”.

Whilst I love my work, it can be intense. So an early morning escape to some green space – however small, and scruffy – can be make a difference between coping, and thriving.

This is my church. And I thank the gods for it.

What, another teapot? Yep.

What, another teapot? Yep.

I’ve come inside to write this. The advantages of being out in the garden began to be outweighed by the fact I was struggling to feel much sensation in my feet. Time to make a fresh pot of tea, maybe some toast, and do more prep for Saturday’s radio show.

Enjoy your Sunday. And have a lovely day.

Another Good Day + Mistakes

Last night I accidently posted my blog to my real life facebook.. ugh

Luckily it was a happy post and I don’t think most people noticed. Honestly it could have been so much worse.

Today has been a good day moodwise. I got some packing done and went out to visit the house so we could show MIL how it looks.

My iPad died because I forgot to charge it so my post was a little late tonight but at least I am still getting it done.

 


The Creative Bipolar Brain

Sun or shade
feel or know
safe or strayed
stall or flow

Thought or whim
drought or rain
sink or swim
heart or brain

Stop or start
bound or free
light or dark
bipolar me

I have a lot of friends who are creative – writers, musicians, singers, woodworkers, knitters, and other craftspeople. I also have a lot of friends who have assorted mental or emotional disorders – depression, bipolar, PTSD, OCD, autism spectrum disorders, and probably many more that I don’t know about. In many cases, the two categories overlap.

Common wisdom holds that there is a link between creativity and madness. Look at Van Gogh, for example. People have spent years debating what specific disorder he may have had, but nearly everyone agrees that he had something. The question is, would he have been the great artist without the mental or emotional disorder? Or, perhaps, would he have been an even greater artist if his brain functioned in a more typical matter? Science so far has given us no answers.

Many creative people realize that their everyday functioning is impaired, but they are reluctant to seek treatment for it. They fear that tampering with their brain or thought processes will somehow inhibit their creativity – make them less than they were in some fundamental way. When you start tampering with brain chemistry, who knows what will happen?

It’s a valid concern.

Throughout my life, my brain has been all that I have, or nearly so. My intelligence and creativity were the things I was most proud of. How could I risk losing those simply because I was eternally miserable? The question seems absurd now.

Eventually I decided that I had plenty of brain cells to spare, and that if taking Prozac took away a few of them or lessened their ability, I could live with that. (Just in case, I took up pursuits that are supposed to strengthen the brain – math puzzles in addition to word puzzles, music in addition to writing. Not everything I tried was a success, but I hope they stretch my brain muscles.)

My experience with that first psychotropic med convinced me that Better Living Through Chemistry is not just a chemical company’s slogan. It turns out that – surprise, surprise – thinking more clearly and feeling more well-adjusted actually empower one’s creativity. My output changed from poems full of young adult angst to creative nonfiction, personal essays, and the occasional short story. I now make my living doing freelance writing and editing – an unstructured process that I couldn’t have made a go of before having my mood disorder treated. The ability to concentrate – to focus – is what enables me to sustain a creative effort.

So to all those people out there who wonder if they are sabotaging themselves and their creative impulses by seeking treatment, I say go for it! You have nothing to lose but your immobility. You have everything to gain – the ability to create, to express yourself and do it clearly, and the possibility to create something truly wonderful.

Sylvia Plath was a poetic genius. But she could have given so much more of her talent and vision to the world if she had not killed herself. Perhaps her poetry, had she been treated for her mood disorder, would not have been as searing and powerful. The point is, we will never know. Would she have become more ordinary, or more extraordinary? Dying young obviates the answer.

I believe – for me – that psychological treatment, appropriate medication, and more stable moods have expanded my creative process. And I try to prove it every week when I post in this and my other blog. Whether I succeed is for you to determine.

Have I lost a step? Maybe. But two forward and one back beats the hell out of one forward and two back.


Filed under: Mental Health Tagged: bipolar disorder, bipolar type 2, blogging, creativity, depression, drug side effects, mental health, mental illness, my experiences, poem, poetry, psychotropic drugs, writing